14 December ~ Al Amal Stella Rossa Bari FC was set up earlier this year. The club is made up primarily (though not exclusively) of economic and political refugees, including Afghans, Bangladeshis and Somalis. The 29-year-old Moroccan Nabil Erjali, once on PSV Eindhoven’s books, has taken on the role of player-president. Bari, with its busy ports and terminals, has long been a stopping-off point for migrants from North Africa and elsewhere.

Things have not always gone smoothly. In October 2009, a group of 40 homeless Somali refugees began squatting in an empty hotel. The sit-in quickly became a focal point and the building is now being developed as an information centre and meeting place for new arrivals in the southern Italian city.

Integration is never easy, even during the most stable of economic and political times. Football, as can often be the way, then provided a further bridge into the wider local community. Following the success of an anti-racism tournament held in Bari earlier this year, Al Amal Stella Rossa was formed. They play under the banner Ama il calcio, odia il razzismo (Love football, hate racism).

Having received start-up funding of €25,000 from local authorities in Puglia, the club currently play in the Terza Catergoria of the Puglia regional leagues. They are not having the best of times. Recent results include an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of Virtus Molfetta.

Al Amal Stella Rossa are not the only side of a similar make-up to be playing in Italy. In Naples, Afro-Napoli United, a club made up of African youth players, have been a feature in the city’s amateur leagues since their formation last year. While Liberi Nantes, based in the Pietralata district of Rome, have been around since 2007 and currently sit mid-table in their local division.

What marks out the Bari club is their ambition. They are now hunting for a sponsor – hopefully someone who can help finance the long-term ambition of moving up into the semi-professional national lower leagues. For the time being though, making a decent fist of things out on the pitch takes a precedent. The squad, made up of 27 players, now make a point of training twice a week and there is a growing sense of commitment, despite their poor showing in the league. Another defeat at the weekend has left them bottom of the table, still yet to win a point, never mind an actual game.

Throughout South America, Australia and the US, clubs and sporting societies can trace their roots back to Italians who crossed continents more than a century ago. There would be a nice bit of symmetry if, in the decades to come, Al Amal Stella Rossa and other clubs like them were to establish themselves in a country – and particularly in the south – where the mass migration of the past continues to infuse everyday life. Matthew Barker

Comments (1)
Comment by geobra 2011-12-14 13:30:47

Here in Bergamo (and maybe in other cities - I don't know) in May and June a mini World Cup is held, sponsored by the local paper and involving teams from the various nationalities that live in the province. It's called 'Bergamondo'.

This year's tournament was the fifth and the countries involved were 19: Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Moldova, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tunisia. There was also a multi-national team. The final, played in front of 2000 fans, saw Senegal beat Ivory Coast 3-0. Ironically on the same day not far from Bergamo the xenophobic Northern League was holding its annual hate-fest.

I've also noticed on my visits to local games in the province an increase in the number of immigrants that find a place in the teams, and a number of them are also becoming referees.

But their presence at the home games of Atalanta is still minimal, which is a pity. When it becomes greater, we will perhaps be able to say that football has played its part in full in the integration process. As it is we can still say that it has been a very positive influence.

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